Austrian president rebukes far-right leader over media jibe

President Alexander Van der Bellen, above, took the Freedom Party’s Heinz-Christian Strache to task for accusing the national broadcaster and one of its journalists of lying. (Getty Images)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Austrian president rebukes far-right leader over media jibe

VIENNA: Austria’s president rebuked the far-right deputy head of government on Friday for accusing the national broadcaster and one of its journalists of lying.
Heinz-Christian Strache, who led the anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO) to third place in last year’s parliamentary election and into government as a junior coalition partner, has for years accused national broadcaster ORF of left-wing bias.
On Tuesday he went further, posting a picture on Facebook of leading ORF news presenter Armin Wolf with the inscription, “There is a place where lies become news. That place is ORF.” Wolf has threatened to sue Strache, saying it is the first time a politician has accused him of lying. ORF demanded an apology.
“Disparaging remarks or baselessly accusing a person of lying have no place in our public debate. It is not respectful and it calls into question the freedom of the press,” President Alexander Van der Bellen told the Kurier and Tiroler Tageszeitung newspapers.
Austria’s president usually serves a largely ceremonial role but as head of state he has the power to dismiss governments.
Although previous presidents have only rarely criticized politicians publicly, Van der Bellen, an environmentalist who beat an FPO candidate in a close-fought runoff in 2016, has said he will watch the new government closely.
A day after his Facebook posting, Strache said it was merely a Mardi Gras prank that was marked as such because it carried the one-word caption “Satire!“
But he twinned that defense with a renewed attack on ORF, saying that when the government reformed the broadcaster he would make sure it would have to report “objectively” and scrap the license fee that funds it.
“Simply labelling something as satire does not by any means make it satire,” Van der Bellen said. “Freedom of opinion and of the press as well as independent media are a basic requirement of a living, liberal democracy. Critically questioning politicians is part of that.”
Wolf is known for his muscular interviewing style and has grilled politicians of all shades.
It is the second time Van der Bellen has publicly criticized a member of the FPO since the coalition government led by conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz took office in December.
Last month he called for the head of the FPO list of candidates in Lower Austria, the province that surrounds Vienna, to step down over his involvement in a right-wing student fraternity that once published a songbook with lyrics joking about the Holocaust. That call was heeded five days later.


India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

Updated 22 September 2018
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India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

  • Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
  • Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”

DELHI: India’s prime minister was under fire over allegations of corruption in a military jet deal with France after comments by former French President François Hollande. Hollande was quoted as saying Narendra Modi’s government had influenced the choice of a local partner.
Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
The opposition, led by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, spent the past year alleging that the deal is a scam, in which India is overpaying for jets and the government is allowing a private company — billionaire Indian businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense — to benefit instead of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
On Friday, Hollande, who cleared the intergovernmental deal when he was in office, was quoted as saying New Delhi had put pressure on Dassault to choose Reliance.
“We had no choice. We took the interlocutor that was given to us,” he was reported as telling the French news service Mediapart, fueling a political storm in India.
The Indian government, however, has insisted all along that it had nothing to do with Dassault’s decision to work with Reliance Defense.
Under Indian defense procurement rules, a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip the Reliance Defense procured the contract .
“The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to ...Anil Ambani,” said Mr. Gandhi in a tweet.
Gandhi further tweeted: “The PM and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a ... SURGICAL STRIKE on the Indian Defense forces. Modi Ji you dishonored the blood of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India’s soul.”
Gandhi repeated the charge in a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday.
The BJP, however, says that there is no corruption.
“The fact that two sovereign heads of States negotiated a deal means that there is no room for corruption,” said Sudesh Verma, BJP spokesperson.
Talking to Arab News Verma emphasized that “the highest integrity was maintained in the deal. Now the Congress is not talking of corruption but favoritism. Merely by saying that Reliance Defense was favored by us would not cut any ice. These are insinuations and are irresponsible.”
Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”
“No matter what the indian government says that perception is that the Indian government gave the offset contract to Anil Ambani, a guy who has no history of producing defense equipment,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi based political analyst.
He added: “The halo around Modi has been severely diminished after the recent revelations. This is something which it would be very difficult to live it down now.”